Harry sat on the empty couch in the empty house, and thought.
It wasn’t the first time that the house had been empty in the last six weeks. Well, empty except for him. But Harry felt so exhausted that he was like the last dead leaf clinging to a branch. He wasn’t sure he counted.
He knew what he would find if he Flooed Malfoy Manor. Draco having dinner with Astoria Greengrass. He had said he would be eating it with his parents, but neither Harry nor Severus were fooled by those words anymore. He went and soaked up attention from a young woman with shining eyes who didn’t seem put off by the Dark Mark on his arm or his last name.
Neither were Harry or Severus, of course. But Draco had been talking lately about newness and how newness was always attractive, and after the first time Harry had stumbled on him and Astoria sitting together on the couch, he knew what Draco meant.
Harry curled his bare foot up under his leg, and thought some more.
With Severus, it wasn’t newness. No. He said that he craved someone who could keep up with him, his biting wit and his Potions knowledge. Harry had never worried about that, because he’d thought Draco did both. But then Severus had come home full of deep silences and starry pauses, and Harry had known.
He’d followed Severus the last time he went to Diagon Alley. Severus had gone straight to a new apothecary that Harry hadn’t known was there.
Once upon a time, Severus would have told them about such things the minute they happened, or at least after he’d spent some time investigating the apothecary’s stock of ingredients to make sure that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to do his shopping there.
But Harry had long ago accepted that he wasn’t living in once upon a time. There was nothing fairy-tale-like about this.
Except, Harry thought, as he stood and Summoned his cloak and then his other cloak, that it has an ending.
It was time to see if he was right about the shape that ending would take.
Harry had fallen in love with Draco because, after the war, he blazed.
He could have hidden. His name was disgraced. Lucius had been thrown bodily out of Ministry politics, and hadn’t been able to get back into them for any amount of money. The Malfoys had been heavily fined. Narcissa barely appeared in the shops where silent stares pursued her until she went away.
But Draco didn’t hide. He stepped forwards.
He donated money to St. Mungo’s. He publically apologized to Hermione and a number of other prominent Muggleborns who had fought on Harry’s side of the war. He had made a long speech, the first day that he had been released from Ministry custody following his successful trial, about how being a pure-blood didn’t mean you had to be a bigot, and neither did being Sorted into Slytherin—and it didn’t matter if your parents or your House Founder were. He had vowed to make both those things a source of pride again, instead of shame.
He had helped rebuild Hogwarts.
That was really where Harry had fallen, instead of teetering on the edge and then catching himself back again with a gasp because what the hell was he doing? He’d come around a corner with a load of rubble floating behind him, to a part that was still open to the sky, and found Malfoy standing there, a rock balanced on his fingertips with a Lightening Charm. He was laughing aloud, and when he finished, he tossed a joke, not the rock, at Ginny. Ginny, of all people, who his father had so deeply scarred.
Harry had fallen.
It had taken him a long time to confess. Longer for Malfoy to stop looking at him as if he had some dangerous strain of Dragonpox and really begin looking. As long for Harry to call him Draco as it took for wounds to stop aching.
Longest of all for Draco to call him Harry.
But Harry had fallen. And so now he went, Apparating out of the house and into the small restaurant that they used to come to together, first the two of them and then the three of them when Severus had made their triad complete.
Draco sat there now with Astoria Greengrass.
Harry had fallen in love with Severus because, after the war, he survived.
He could have changed, Harry supposed. The people who thought of him as a war hero, including Hermione and Ginny and other students he had helped when he was Headmaster of Hogwarts, had described his actions. They’d said he had helped them survive. Severus could have embraced that identity and made perhaps one surly, snarling speech.
He hadn’t. Instead, Severus had quit Hogwarts, burned the portrait of him that was trying to form on the wall of the Headmaster’s office, and gone off to open his own brewing business. He never disguised the name on the shop’s sign or the vials. He didn’t even adopt his mother’s name of Prince, which Harry had had a thought, faint as a newborn’s heartbeat, that he might.
Harry went into his apothecary to see him, because he had to. Severus had examined him with sharp eyes and then ignored him utterly until Harry had bought a small jar of phoenix dander. He’d shaken his head.
“Do you know how to brew any potion that contains this, Potter?”
“I’m learning now,” Harry said quietly. He wasn’t going to take his NEWTS at Hogwarts, which Hermione had treated like an announcement that he was going to become a Muggle. But the school held too many bad memories for him. Taking them at the Ministry and self-studying seemed simpler.
Severus’s voice had been flat in an odd way. Harry had glanced at him curiously as he stepped out of the shop, and found those eyes following him, and not in a way that said Severus suspected him of stealing ingredients.
In time he had come back, and Severus had deigned to speak to him about his Potions study. And there had been other times when he had come and found Draco there, and hesitated, and been welcomed in. Draco was going to be taking his NEWTS at the Ministry for the same reasons Harry was, and they had bent together over the books, arguing over which obscure bits of magical knowledge the examiners would actually expect them to have, and whether they could escape with only a light skimming of History of Magic.
And Severus had watched them.
Now, Harry couldn’t find Severus at his own apothecary. He spent all his time in Diagon Alley, at the new one that had opened there.
Speaking with a man called Ares Rumbar.
“Neither of my partners understand me.”
Astoria made a sympathetic grimace and reached out to cover Draco’s hand with her own. “That must be hard. Have you tried speaking to your partners and involving them more in your emotional inner life?”
Harry, seated at a nearby table, eating saffron rice, and concealed under a glamour, found that he also had to conceal a snort. No, of course Draco hadn’t. He was on the hunt for someone new, not a repairing of the old.
Astoria will watch out for that, if she’s smart.
“They only tell me they’ve heard it all before.”
We say that when you want to complain about the exact same problems at work, in the exact same words. Honestly, anyone else would have moved out of the Department of International Magical Cooperation by now. Draco hated the work. That he remained, with his passion for novelty, said how little he understood himself.
Astoria’s eyes widened. “I would never say that to my partner!”
“I know. But you’re special, Astoria. Gentle and caring. No one would be able to shut you out.”
“Thank you, Draco. But…I still feel….you said that you love me, but I don’t feel right being with you when you haven’t told your partners yet.”
Maybe he thinks that with Severus moving on and me supposedly sitting at home being a dupe about this, he’d have the best of both worlds.
“I promise, Astoria, that nothing will go further than this until I break up with them. But it’s also hard to abandon that many years of history, if you understand?”
“I suppose. I—I don’t think I can keep myself from falling in love with you, Draco. But please tell me that you’re going to break up with them soon.”
He’ll probably end up doing that, and then she’ll become the one that he complains about not understanding him to yet someone else. It’s different meeting illicitly with someone and actually living with them. Draco’s not good at that last part.
“I promise, Astoria. For now, just a kiss on your hand?” And as she assented with a blush and her blonde hair tumbling around her as she held out her hand, Draco suited words to actions.
Harry paid for his meal and left. He had seen all he needed to do of Draco’s choices. It was time to check on Severus’s.
“They do not see that Potions is an art.”
It was actually Ares saying that, not Severus, somewhat to Harry’s surprise. Still, when he thought about it, he supposed that was the reason Severus had chosen the man. They were similar in personality.
Not in looks, immediately. Ares Rumbar was a short man with shaggy blond hair and blue eyes that stood out a little from his face. It made him resemble Luna, which made Harry’s thoughts about him probably kinder than the bloke deserved. Harry stood in the shadows and listened as Ares went on to explain why apothecaries and brewers needed to date only each other, instead of people who didn’t see it as an art.
The way neither Harry nor Draco did. Harry appreciated Potions a lot more than he ever had in school, he’d gained enough NEWTS to become an Auror, and he could admire it abstractly as something that was important to Severus. But no, he didn’t live or breathe it.
Strange that Severus had never told him that was a prime requirement in a partner.
When Ares paused for breath, Severus began in a murmur. “I spend my time brewing, and that is when I am happiest, when I am in my lab. When I know that the door will not open and they will not intrude their mundane problems upon me. Because they respect the closed door. But they do not respect me. When I step out of the lab and into their small, petty world, they heap their small, petty problems on me.”
Ares nodded so hard that his hair flopped forwards over his face. “That’s another reason that people like us should only date each other. We know that the closed door is always there.”
Harry wanted to shake his head hard enough that it would have disturbed the drape of the Invisibility Cloak that he’d thrown over his head when he entered the shop. If that mattered to you so much, why did you start dating us in the first place?
But Severus didn’t know he was there, and didn’t know that the question would have popped up in Harry’s mind. He leaned towards Rumbar and said, “Perhaps you are right. But I have a triad I am reluctant to leave.”
“You should, though. You should have the generosity and integrity to yourself to walk away and leave them to their small pathetic thoughts.”
Harry waited a little more, but the conversation continued in that vein: Ares trying to persuade Severus and Severus acting like morals constricted him, instead of the knowledge of the benefits that Harry was sure did. The thing was, Severus wanted both, to have him and Draco as lovers and the security of their home together and the routines he was used to, and the reassurance that he was a genius and that he could brew by himself without owing his lovers ordinary human warmth.
It wasn’t something Harry could give him. He turned and left, still under the Invisibility Cloak, on the heels of another customer.
Harry sat on the couch and thought long after Severus and Draco had gone to bed that night. They’d asked him what he was thinking about, but not pressingly. They seemed to assume it couldn’t concern them.
And in a way, they were right, weren’t they? Harry asked himself. He had already made his decision. It didn’t concern them, not really. He didn’t have to be concerned with them any longer.
He tried to remember the last time they had spent an evening together, the three of them, or even an evening that Severus and Draco had spent talking just to him. He couldn’t. It must have been more than two years ago. That was when Draco had first begun to complain that things never changed and to always be “busy at the Ministry.” That was when Severus had begun to do marathon brewing sessions that meant he missed meals and set at the table snarling soundlessly even when he was out of the lab.
They would rather be doing other things. Dating other people, although Harry was less sure of that in Severus’s case than he was in Draco’s. It could be that Severus simply wanted to brew and do nothing else. That he was as tired of the relationship as Draco seemed.
And I’m tired of being treated like I’m a problem because I’ve been around for years or because I don’t make Potions the center of my life.
Harry sighed and stood up. This was giving up, or it felt like it. But when he couldn’t share anything with his partners, when he slept in an empty bed most of the time, when most of his meals were eaten alone…
It was acknowledging that they had long since given up on him.
He wrote a note, since without one it was conceivable that they might worry. Then he turned and walked into his bedroom. There were still some robes that weren’t his hanging in the wardrobe, but Severus had taken most of his into the lab so he could change when something burned or exploded, and Draco’s had vanished. He said they were in his office.
Harry wouldn’t be surprised if they were, but he also wouldn’t be surprised if they were soon to be at Astoria’s house.
He gathered up his clothes, the small mementoes like the photograph of Ron and Hermione that he’d put on the mirror and the crystal stag and doe leaping together on the mantel, and looked around. No, there was nothing else that he wanted to take.
It had long since been taken.
Harry turned and walked to the Floo. When he threw the powder in, the Floo lit up at once. “The Haven!” he called, Ron and Hermione’s Floo address.
And he vanished, to a life that he hoped would include a home and a lover, or lovers, that actually talked to him.
In the end, it wasn’t breaking up. It was scrubbing up a stain that had lain there too long.